ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Intense body camera video released by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday shows the moments a man pulled a gun on St. Petersburg police officers.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the suspect has mental health issues and the officers are lucky to be alive after narrowly missing the bullets fired at them.
The violent confrontation happened on Saturday. According to the sheriff, it was less than 30 seconds from when officers got out of their car to when they had a gun pointed at them and being fired.
“[The officer] said he could hear the round whiz by his head, it was that close,” Sheriff Gualtieri said Tuesday during a news conference.
The sheriff’s office said Officer Ronald McKenzie and Officer Pavel Kuznetsov with St. Pete police were trying to arrest 23-year-old Austin Kingos for allegedly violating a stalking injunction, and found him in a van outside his home on 4th Street North near Gandy Boulevard.
Video released Tuesday shows the officers conducting the traffic stop.
One officer is seen talking to Kingos before a struggle. The other officer then runs over to help his partner before Kingos fires a shot, narrowly missing them both, Gualtieri said.
According to deputies, a bullet barely missed Officer Kuznetsov’s head and hit a nearby apartment building. No inside the home was injured.
“I can’t stress how close it came to hitting Officer Kuznetsov’s in the head,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
Kingos only got one shot out before his gun jammed, according to the sheriff’s office. Employees at Clearwater’s Shoot Straight tell 8 On Your Side a gun can jam for many reasons – including the gun’s ammunition, age or cleanliness.
It seems to be small details in this case that likely saved a life.
“If the officer tilted his head or took one step, there’s no doubt the officer would have been shot in the head,” Sheriff Gualtieri said.
One of the officers responded by drawing his pistol and firing several rounds at Kingos, injuring his left leg.
Kingos took off running, deputies said, but eventually surrendered at the intersection of 108th Avenue North and 4th Street North. He was rushed to the hospital.
Kingos has since been released from the hospital and booked into the Pinellas County Jail on one count violation of an injunction for protection and two counts of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer.
St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway said the officers who had shots fired at them are both uninjured and doing fine.
“We are very happy the officers are going home safely,” Chief Holloway said.
Michelle Dotson was working from home and was just feet from where the gunfire erupted.
“And I peaked out this way first and saw how it went through the window and I looked back in and thought there was a bullet that came through my window. That’s amazing,” Dotson told 8 On Your Side.
Police said they were taking Kingos into custody for violating a stalking injunction of a woman he met at a smoke shop. They said he sent multiple packages, including baby clothes and breast pumps, saying he wanted to have her children.
The sheriff said Kingos family claims he’s bipolar and Schizophrenic but recently stopped his meds and started smoking marijuana. Mental health experts call that a dangerous combination.
“What we know about mental illness, especially severe mental illness, is it needs the consistent and constant care and treatment just like any other chronic health condition,” said April Lott, the president and CEO of Directions for Living.
When asked if she thinks gun laws should become more strict surrounding mental health, Lott said it’s a very complicated problem. The Pinellas County sheriff and St. Pete police chief agree, both stressing the importance of the second amendment.
“It’s a very tough issue,” Sheriff Gualtieri said.
“It’s a people’s problem,” Chief Holloway added. “The gun didn’t fire, the person fired the gun.”
Dotson tells 8 On Your Side there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about Kingos.
“He mostly kept to himself, he seemed like a nice enough person,” Kingos said.
Both officers made it out of this weekend’s incident uninjured. After a short foot chase, Kingos ended up in cuffs and apologized.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Kingos said in the video as he’s being handcuffed.